If you want to make money with stock photography you’ll have to follow some basic guidelines, no matter if you shoot for a microstock site or a traditional stock photography agency.
Shoot photos that sell
That’s by far the most important point. Would you pay for an image of your neighbor’s mother-in-law Or of his dog Of course not! No one would, perhaps not even your neighbor himself.
Likewise, professional photo buyers don’t care for that kind of image. What they are looking for are photos that illustrate concepts, like career, relationship or retirement. Business-related photos generally sell very well. Photos of handshakes sell well because shaking hands is a universal, widely understood idea that can be used to illustrate negotiations, contracts, treaties and even things like breaking-up or divorce.
Travel photography can sell well if it can be used to illustrate concepts. For example, a photo of the Houses of Parliament in London can be used to illustrate democracy or governmental topics.
I have been making money from stock photography for about 10 years now. I rarely take photoshoots or travel while thinking “I can’t wait to take stock shots and make money from this,” but I have managed to get back the amount of money I spent on travel for years. Even though I don’t shoot full-time stock, there are a number of things I do to ensure that every photo I shoot makes me at least some good stock style images that I can try and sell.
One way to make stock image sales is to have something that is not owned by someone else (or some others). Say you are given the option to climb and photograph K2, a mountain that is climbed by about 300 people, or climb to the top of the Empire State Building to take photos from the observation deck. What would you choose?
Even though this is a very extreme example, if someone needs a photo of K2 to sell, and you have it, it is money in the bank. If you have photos from the top of The Empire State Building for sale, and someone needs that photo, you will likely face thousands of other photos.
I travel a lot, and I almost always take pictures while traveling. I always make sure I shoot the part of the city or country that most tourists don’t want, or are afraid to leave, like the North Korean picture below. This is where some of my favorite photos come from. Back alley, stranger’s living room, places you shouldn’t go. These places are ideal for my portrait style, but they often offer a different view of a city that most people cannot take pictures of.